Richard III by William Shakespeare

Chantel’s Rating – 3 / 5
Caidyn’s Rating – 5 / 5

This month for the BW Book Club, Caidyn assigned me to read King Richard III or as I have dubbed him, King Dicky. Dicky for short. I won’t lie and say I didn’t struggle with this play because I did. I fully believe Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read, that said I’m not knocking off stars because of the format. This whole play revolves around Dicky’s assent to the throne and the horrible things he does in order to become King. Shakespeare is great at writing morally gray or in this case amoral characters. There is Iago in Othello, Macbeth, and Lady Macbeth, Prospero in The Tempest, and I’m sure there are plenty of others I didn’t mention because I haven’t read every play by Shakespeare. Richard is devious, manipulative, and a bit funny. There was a lot of asides to the audience. Plus the actor reading his part in the audiobook did a great job. I am looking forward to watching Benedict Cumberbatch portray him in The Hollow Crown.

Benedict Cumberbatch wink
It’s been too long since I used this gif.

However, this play is one in a series of plays. I’m not sure of the exact order, I’m sure Caidyn will fill me in, but the play begins in the aftermath of a murder. I didn’t realize right away that things had happened with these characters in a previous play. It left me with no context of what was going on. By the end of Act One, I think I understood, but I wish I had the opportunity to read the previous plays first. Just so I could’ve understood things better.

I think a combination of a struggle to grasp plot points and the fact that I don’t like reading about a villain who gets his way more often than not, that caused me to not enjoy the play as much as I would’ve liked. Dicky was the best part of the play and he was my favorite part, but I felt like he deserved a bigger downfall. I think watching The Hollow Crown and re-reading this play at some point might one day bring my rating higher, but for now, I think it was a solid three. It was good but didn’t move me.

Well, Chantel sort of asked me for history, so here goes. Sparknotes also has a context section for this play. This set play is a part of Shakespeare’s minor quartet (Henry VI Part 1-3 and this one). However, the story really starts with his major quartet: Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 and 2, and Henry V. It even starts further back, with Edward III. Now, E3 (I love my abbreviations) had a lot of sons. One son was Edward, the Black Prince. He died with a young son, Richard, who became Richard II (R2). R2 was, perhaps, not the best king because of his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, deposed him and became Henry IV (H4). His son, Henry V, died soon after having an heir, so England was ruled by a boy king, Henry VI (H6). These are the Lancasters or the red roses. Then, there was a rebellion from the heirs of E3’s fifth son, the Yorks. They took the throne, starting with Edward IV (E4) and then dear Dicky.

However, this play also introduces the Tudor lineage. H6’s mom got married to Owen Tudor, a Welsh man. They had three children together, but only one is super important. Edmund Tudor married an illegitimate line of E3’s son, Margaret Beaufort. Then, they had Henry Tudor, cousin to H6. After Dicky got the throne and he killed all contenders, he only had Henry left. Henry beat him at the Battle of Bosworth and took the throne as Henry VII, marrying E4’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, to marry the two feuding lines.
So, that’s the history in a nutshell. And what this play is. It culminates to historical propaganda to show why the Tudors are rightful rulers, even though they had been on the throne for a century by the time this was written.

That is really interesting actually. Did he write the quartets to please Queen Elizabeth I? I believe she was a big fan of his works, were they written with her in mind despite her, a Tudor, being on the throne?

I researched this real fast (thanks, Google) to see what has already been written about this. I’m using this post and also Wiki for some info. Turns out that this focuses on a character (and real person) I didn’t mention. H7’s father, Edmund, died before he was born. I’m resisting a tangent here, but his mother, Margaret Beaufort, remarried a few times. One man was Thomas Stanley, who is a part of this play. His son (H7’s stepbrother) was being held by Dicky to ensure Stanley’s help. But, he didn’t and after Dicky was killed, he crowned H7… in the play. Really, it was his younger brother, William Stanley, who crowned H7 on the battlefield.

Ferdinando Stanley, a direct heir of Thomas Stanley, was Shakespeare’s patron. Not only that, but he was also a relative of Henry VIII through Henry’s sister’s marriage to Charles Brandon. (Yes, Chantel, the guy you loved in The Tudors.)


Charles Brandon Tudors.gif
Because he was so dreamy.

So, the short answer is yes. Yes, he had to write these with her in mind, but more importantly were his direct patrons who might be pissed about him writing something that might praise Dicky.

That blog post was very interesting and really it makes sense to me. Perhaps he didn’t have E1 completely in mind when writing the play, but the people who had the most to gain from twisting the story. It reminds me of how films get made. You have a studio which you pitch your script to, but once they finance the movie, they can make creative decisions that you might not be okay with. There are many people who are picking at your story to have it fit their agendas. Things haven’t changed much in that sense. I mean, just look at Blade Runner. There are multiple cuts of that film because of Ridley Scott fighting to have the film HE wanted to make and the studio making the decisions without him. Sorry (not sorry), film tangent.

I’ve learned to expect your film tangents, but you are correct. It’s a system of patronage. Now, Ridley Scott is seen as a genius and he can do whatever the fuck he wants with a story to tell it in his way. It’s interesting, all of it. And I think it does make sense for the play Elizabeth I wasn’t the one in Shakespeare’s mind, but she was on the mind of his patron. What’s the best way to get in good favor with a very, very picky queen (as E1 was known to be with her favorites)? Talk about her grandfather pioneered over the devil incarnate. Shakespeare also wrote a play called Henry VIII and only took place when Anne Boleyn was queen. Didn’t go further, but it eulogized her from what I remember.

Exactly, but before he could release the final cut of Blade Runner, the cut he personally approved of as the definitive one, he had to go along with whatever the studio wanted. That’s something that hasn’t changed and likely won’t. The people with the money are the ones who ultimately have control. No matter what it is. I can only imagine how it feels to have someone look at your creation and tell you to change many parts of it. I know that happens in film, tv, and even books. It would bug the hell out of me. I’m not surprised that Shakespeare had to cater to his audience, which in the case of dear Dicky was his patrons and the queen. I had heard in my class that when James took the throne, he didn’t like long plays which is why his later plays are shorter. That’s just something my teacher said in class, but plays like Macbeth and The Tempest are shorter than say, Hamlet. But I think everything is shorter than Hamlet. I always think about the four-hour long movie Kenneth Branagh made.

I don’t really know things like that, honestly. I’m not too interested in the Stuart reign, funny enough, but I should look more into it. Shakespeare definitely had to cater to his audience since he was dependent on them. I just love this play, even if it is horrific propaganda against a guy who might not be terrible. Yes, his brother got slandered. Yes, his nephews disappeared and were never found again. But, it could have been other people making the plots. I don’t quite believe that since Dicky ended up on top, but I also don’t think he was a demon.

I’m not here to provide facts, just witty commentary. I have no clue if that’s true, but I just thought it was interesting. No matter who was on the throne, Shakespeare had to cater to them somehow in some ways because you are right that he was dependant on them. So, basically, you are saying Dicky is just a modern biopic. Not completely accurate, but hella entertaining.

I’m not a film nerd like you so I don’t really know what biopics are, but sure. This is like some reality TV for me. Just stuff that’s insane and you can’t believe happened. It’s true historically, but Shakespeare took liberties to portray a very one-sided view of Dicky.

A biopic is a movie that’s a biography of someone’s life. It’s either “based on a true story” or based on a book written about the subject. Some examples are The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, The King’s Speech and Elizabeth. I could go on.

Oh, okay. Gotcha. Then, this is a biopic. It’s based on it but definitely has an angle and a moral point you ought to take from it. Aka, that Dicky is evil and the devil and deserved what he got.

Looks like we are both dropping knowledge here. I could say a biopic that takes liberties in terms of Dicky, but let’s be honest, they all take liberties. They are creating a product meant for entertainment, someone’s life is usually not consistently entertaining unless they are Forrest Gump. Who is a fictional character. But yes, Dicky is awful and he got what he deserved. A moral that I feel is common in Shakespeare.

Uhm, excuse you, but Forrest Gump was a very real person who met and did all of those things. Very, very real. Shakespeare does make great villains, but their ultimate drive seems to usually be getting themselves ahead. Iago is like that. Prospero, although he’s not supposed to be a villain, is a lot like one. Don John in Much Ado About Nothing. The list could go on and on.

Oh, my apologies, I’m certain that the “real” Forrest Gump worked for NASA as an astronaut too. That was in the book, not the movie. Also, you totally forgot about the Macbeths. They both are haunted by their guilt of what they did and it is ultimately their downfall.

That’s true, the Macbeths are different, but it’s also a little different since Macbeth wasn’t inherently evil like Dicky or Iago. Lady Macbeth is also different since she’s a woman and he’s playing on a woman usurping her “feminine” role in life and how she suddenly came back to it with extreme guilt for “being” a man.

Yes, they actually feel guilty for doing what they did, unlike Dicky or Iago. That’s true. I just lumped them in because they had their own separate downfalls as a result of them wanting to rise to power. But there is a lot more nuance to the Macbeths, which is what makes the play so great. After one reading of Dicky, I have to say that Macbeth is far superior as a play, but that’s just me.

I think what it comes down to is that fate and destiny play a defining role. Macbeth, while not inherently evil like Dicky, was destined to do this terrible thing. Dicky was destined from birth to be evil forever. I like Macbeth and it’s my favorite of his tragedies, but I like this one just a bit better because of the richness of analysis. Macbeth is also a history, in a way, but different. This one takes a bit more work because it relies on you knowing the ins and out of history.

And for me, it required so much thinking that my brain hurt. I prefer easy reading.

I’m sorry I made your head hurt this month.

3 thoughts on “Richard III by William Shakespeare

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